An interview with Victoria Helen Stone, author of the #1 Kindle bestseller EVELYN, AFTER and A.J. Banner, author of the #1 Kindle bestseller THE GOOD NEIGHBOR and THE TWILIGHT WIFE
Photo Credit: Carol Ann Morris
Photo Credit: Victoria Dahl
VHS: I loved the Pacific Northwest setting of THE TWILIGHT WIFE. My next book, HALF PAST, is set in Big Sur, a similarly lonely coast and a great place to isolate my characters with their struggles. Why did you set your book in the Pacific Northwest?
AB: Who could resist the dark forests of the San Juan Islands as the setting for novels of psychological suspense? Some of those isles are uninhabited, while others are so small, they disappear at high tide. The infamous Barefoot Bandit hid out on San Juan Island. And I thought, who knows who else could be lurking in those woods?
I live in a house in the forest on the Olympic Peninsula, so I know this misty, mysterious landscape. I know the way the wind feels on my face when I’m out on the deck of the ferry, the quality of light, the species of wildlife that visit our garden. My home office overlooks a fir forest. Every time I glance up from my laptop computer, I see the setting of my novels!
VHS: What was the most difficult part about writing a character with amnesia? What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
AB: The most difficult part of writing from Kyra’s point of view was climbing into her head and trying to understand her thoughts. I gathered her emotions – fear, uncertainty, worry, hope – and translated them onto the page as best I could. But I needed to make sure she didn’t become shrill or irritating to the reader. She couldn’t wallow in self-pity. She needed to keep trying to rebuild her life and her marriage, to keep seeking the truth of her past.
For research, I read books on memory and types of memory loss – and I studied books on marine biology, since Kyra is a marine biologist.
VHS: Issues of trust, secrets, and questions about what you really know about the people you love are at the heart of both our books. What do you think are some key ingredients that make a good psychological suspense novel? How does your book fit into that genre and does it play with any of those elements?
AB: Readers should care about what happens to the protagonist, and the story should pose intriguing, pressing questions that drive the narrative through unexpected twists and turns and are not answered until the end. For example, in your wonderful book, EVELYN, AFTER, we know from nearly the beginning that Evelyn has secrets, about an accident, about an affair, but we don’t know why, how, when or what the outcome of revealing these secrets will be. In THE TWILIGHT WIFE, I hope readers will wonder exactly what happened in the accident that stole Kyra’s memory, and what key moments she needs to remember about the last four years of her life.
VHS: My novel opens in the middle of an already troubled relationship that’s about to get a whole lot worse—something that I hope keeps readers wondering what will to happen next. Although THE TWILIGHT WIFE is a short read, you managed to pack a lot of action and tension into the plot. You really kept me guessing and I was totally invested in seeing Kyra get back to herself. Was there anything you edited out that didn’t make it into the final draft? I need more secrets!
AB: I love this question! I deleted or revised many scenes, and I wrote at least five different versions of the opening chapter.
One opening began with this:
My oxygen tank is running low. But I must remain calm. Breathe in, breathe out. Do not ascend too quickly. Bubbles of nitrogen will form in my bloodstream. But I’m almost out of air.
Another version began with a prologue:
I’m pedaling as fast as I can, racing south on Desolation Road. I’ve been riding for miles in the darkness, my lungs screaming for air, my muscles cramping in protest.
Ultimately, I decided to start with Kyra’s main dilemma, the loss of her memory:
This morning, I know the scientific term for the vermilion star, Mediaster aequalis, but I have trouble remembering my name.
VHS: I loved that opening line!
Both our books deal with a lot more than just psychological suspense—we also touch on domestic issues like marriage and home life, and about the troubles that start to break down the relationships that are supposed to last forever. So aside from psychological suspense, what other genres/books have influenced your writing? Did you always want to write suspense or did your book start as something else?
AB: The book was always psychological suspense! Novels in a variety of genres have influenced my writing, from science fiction to mainstream/commercial and literary fiction. I loved The Girl on the Train, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Our Souls at Night, and Never Let Me Go — novels that are wildly different from each other but are all superb.
I’ve always loved stories with a twist, from the early Alfred Hitchcock short stories to Joy Fielding’s novels (See Jane Run and Whispers and Lies come to mind) to modern psychological suspense.
VHS: Though it’s one of my favorite genres, I’ve heard the occasional opinion that we have too many psychological suspense novels on the market. With other great books like The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10, etc... what does your book add to the genre?
AB: I don’t think we can ever have too many riveting novels to read. I believe the genre, “psychological suspense,” offers readers a general idea of what they’re getting when they pick up a book. Also, after the success of The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, many other novels have been compared to these titles, even if the similarities are tenuous at best. Just as you did to EVELYN, AFTER, I hope I’m bringing my own distinctive voice and viewpoint to readers in a way that will have them itching for more.
VHS: I’d say you absolutely succeeded. I adored Kyra’s journey and her voice, so thank you for writing her story!
“[A] harrowing plot that reveals memory to be both unreliable and impossible to fully wash away. . . . Kyra is a believable, empathetic protagonist, and Banner’s ability to maintain tension while teasing out the truth of her hazy past will keep readers engaged.” (Publishers Weekly )
“An enthralling, unforgettable novel that defies readers to stop turning the pages.” (Gregg Olsen, #1 New York Times bestselling author )
"AJ Banner's The Twilight Wife is an intensely suspenseful, diamond sharp romantic thriller about a woman who has lost her memory and the wild, painful path back to her true self. Every page is packed with both peril and exquisite writing, and the novel reads like a wholly unique cross between Somewhere in Time and Memento. You won't be able to put it down!" (David Bell, author of Since She Went Away )
"After a diving accident, a woman's memory returns in cryptic and terrifying flashes in A. J. Banner's latest thriller. Filled with buried secrets and unexpected turns, The Twilight Wife is a twisty, edge of your seat story that's impossible to put down." (Kimberly Belle, author of The Marriage Lie )
"Banner captures the anxiety of a lost memory and haunted past in this taut psychological thriller, beautifully set on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest." (D.M. Pulley, author of The Dead Key and The Buried Book )
"Suspense and mystery simmer on every page of A.J. Banner’s latest novel, The Twilight Wife. With a wonderfully clever plot; a sympathetic and skillfully drawn point of view character; a powerful sense of place; and rich prose that is, at times, almost hauntingly evocative; The Twilight Wife is everything readers could hope for, whether they are looking for psychological suspense, mystery, or simply a beautifully told story. A real treat." (James Hankins, Amazon #1 bestselling author of The Prettiest One )
“With spellbinding narration and brilliant pacing, The Twilight Wife is not to be missed. A. J. Banner is a truly gifted storyteller!” (Wendy Walker, USA Today bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten )
"A haunting tale about one woman's struggle to remember the past, the husband she is supposed to love, and the accident that changed everything. This mesmerizing fast paced psychological thriller is full of chilling twists and turns. I couldn't put it down!" (Karen Katchur, author of The Secrets of Lake Road and The Sisters of Blue Mountain )
Previous praise for THE GOOD NEIGHBOR (named by Harper’s Bazaar as a book that could be the next Gone Girl):
“A riveting psychological thriller with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. The ending will blow you away. Set aside your day. You won’t be able to put The Good Neighbor down.” (Robert Dugoni, Amazon #1 and New York Times bestselling author of My Sister’s Grave )
“Thrilling.” (First for Women Magazine )
“In The Good Neighbor A. J. Banner plays on many of our greatest fears—that the person we’ve placed our greatest trust in isn’t who we think they are. A fast paced psychological thriller with a fantastic twist at the end. Not to be missed.” (Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of Hidden and Smoke )
“…packed with mystery and suspense…the final destination is a total surprise. Well done.” (The New York Journal of Books )
“Breathtaking and suspenseful…unique and highly entertaining.” (Fresh Fiction )